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Articles Posted in Reasonable Accommodations

Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided a case with an important lesson for employees requesting time off due to a disability, and the employment law attorneys who represent them. Specifically, in Prigge v. Sears Holding Corp., the Third Circuit dismissed an employee’s disability discrimination case on the basis that the employee was fired for failing to provide all of information his employer requested about his medical absences, and lied to the company about his disability. The Third Circuit is the federal court that handles appeals from the District of New Jersey.

John Prigge worked for Sears Holding Corp., as a store coach, from April 2007 through February 2008. Mr. Prigge was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He began feeling ill in December 2007, and took at least two days off from work and had to leave work early on several other occasions. However, he lied to his supervisors by claiming he needed the time off for radiation treatment due to a recurrence of his prostate cancer.

Mr. Prigge was subsequently hospitalized for a week in late January 2008 because his depression had gotten worse and he was having suicidal thoughts. When he was released from the hospital, he contacted his supervisor and told him he had been absent because he suffers from bipolar disorder and had been at a mental health hospital. Mr. Prigge’s boss told him he could not return to work until he submitted doctor’s notes from both the hospital and the physician who had treated his prostate cancer. The next day, Mr. Prigge admitted to his boss that he had not actually undergone prostate cancer treatment in December 2007 or January 2008.Third Circuit Court of Appeals.jpg

On April 8, 2010, in the case of Colwell v. Rite Aid Corporation, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled that employers can be required to change an employee’s work shift to accommodate the employee’s disability. The Third Circuit is the federal appellate court that covers several states, including New Jersey.

The Facts of Colwell v. Rite Aid Corporation

Jeanette Colwell worked as a cashier at a Rite Aid store. On some days she worked the day shift (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.), and on other days she worked the night shift (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.).

New York’s Appellate Division recently recognized that a disabled employee working in New York may be entitled to take extended medical leave under the New York State and New York City Human Rights Law.

The case involved Deborah Phillips, a civil service employee for New York City’s Department of Homeless Services (DHS). After Ms. Phillips had worked for DHS for 18 years, she took a 3 month medical leave for a serious medical condition, stage III breast cancer. Ms. Phillips asked her employer to extend her medical leave for a full year. DHS denied her request because she had exceeded her entitlement to 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and was ineligible for additional unpaid medical leave under the Department’s policy. DHS told her that if she did not return to work by October 30, 2006, the date on which she originally agreed to return to work, she would be subject to disciplinary action, or fired.

Ms. Phillips then asked DHS if she could take any additional medical leave. The City denied her request, again telling her that if she did not to return to work by October 30, she would be fired and would lose her medical benefits. Ms. Phillips did not return to work, and DHS eventually fired her.

Employers must Offer Reasonable Accommodations
If it Is Obvious Disabled Employee Needs One

An employer is required to provide a reasonable accommodation for a disabled employee if it is obvious the employee needs a reasonable accommodation to perform the essential functions of his or her job, even if the employee never requested an accommodation or does not think he needs one. That was the ruling reached by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on July 2, 2008.

In that case, Brady v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc<, Patrick S. Brady sued Wal-Mart and two of his supervisors under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA&”), 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq., and the New York Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law 290, et seq.